Youth Football Kick Off Blocking Assignments

Special teams is one of the most commonly ignored, yet vitally important development areas for a youth or high school football team. Coach Jimmy Johnson once stated that teams need to win 2 of 3 phases of the game in order to come out with a “W” – offense, defense, or special teams. In other words, special teams is just as important as offense and defense, and should be treated that way in your game preparation.

Below is a 4-step drill progression which will help introduce your players to the fundamentals of kicking and punting, and give you a better chance to win the special teams battle.  NOTE: if you’re looking for a complete set of drills for special teams, offense, and defense, make sure you check out my “Football Drills and Practice Plans” book.

Staying Onside Drill

Purpose: This is a great drill to practice staying onside during a kickoff. It will also help with conditioning.

How it’s Run: A ball is placed at the goal line, then the 15 yard line, and then every 15 yards the length of the field. The kickoff team will line-up to kick the first ball. The kicker will signal that the kickoff will occur and then run up and kick the ball. All the players will sprint forward as if they are covering a kick.

Each player will run about 10 yards downfield and then prepare for another kickoff. This time the ball will be kicked from the 15 yard line and then from the 30 yard line and so on.

The drill will continue all the way down the field. At each spot the kicker can actually kick the ball, or can just feign that he’s kicking the ball.

Result: Coaches should look to make sure that all players are staying onside each time the ball is kicked. Also, every player should be sprinting forward just as they would for an actual kickoff in a game.

Return Kick Drill

Purpose: It’s important for players to set-up in the correct spot to block when returning a kick. This is a great drill to teach the return team how to properly block for the return.

Kickoff Return Drill

How it’s Run: The kick return team will be on the field for this drill. They will set-up however they are asked to set-up in an actual game.

There will be a coach standing near where the opposing kicker would kickoff. This coach will simulate each kickoff.

There will be another coach about 30 yards downfield. This coach will throw the ball to one of the return men. The throwing of the ball will simulate the actual kick.

After the coach has thrown the ball to a return man, the return team has to find the ball then sprint to the correct spot on the field where they will have to block for the return.

Result: Coaches need to make sure that all players know where they’re supposed to go to block while the ball is in the air. All players need to get to the correct spot as fast as possible.

Overload Punt Drill

Purpose: When an opponent overloads one side of the formation in an attempt to block a punt, your team needs to know who they will block and how. This drill will help them make the right decision.

Overload Punt Drill

How it’s Run: Half the punt team will take the field – just six players at a time (the center, all the blockers on one side of the formation, and the blocker behind the line of scrimmage).

Then a punt block team will take the field opposite them. This will be 7 players. Every blocker should be covered by a defender and then there should be an extra punt blocker on one side.

Just 1 of the outside players will rush the punt. The coach can choose to shift the line of punt blockers to the left or the right.

The blockers need to look to see which players are rushing and they need to block the correct guys. In general they should take the guy who is lined up directly on them.

Result: Coaches should make sure that the correct rushers are being blocked. The blockers should look to block from the inside out, since it takes longer for an outside rusher to get to the punter.

Onside Kick Drill

Purpose: Sometimes the situation of the game calls for an onside kick. Sometimes a coach likes to use an onside kick as an element of surprise as well. This drill helps the kickoff team practice executing an onside kick.

Onside Kick Drill

How it’s Run: This drill is pretty basic in its execution. Players will line-up to onside kick to the left or to the right of the formation. Each player will be given a specific role that they have to fill.

In the diagram below the kick will be to the right side. The players on the right side of the formation will each have a specific role.

All the players, except the player nearest the ball and the player farthest back, will charge forward and simply try to block the opponent from getting to the ball. The player nearest the ball will signal for the rest of the players to take off and then will turn and try to recover the ball.

The player farthest away will allow the players in front of him to block the opponent and he will try to recover the ball.

This drill should be run to both sides.

Result: Coaches should look to make sure all the players are correctly fulfilling their given roles. Also, coaches should make sure players are leaving on time and not going offside.

Next step: Check out my football coaching book for more drills, tips and coaching strategies to improve your team!

by Michael David Smith

“Stay in your lane.�

For decades, those words have been the foundation of every football coach's instructions to the players on his kickoff coverage unit. In the early days of football, the members of the coverage team just lined up across the field with five yards between them, then ran straight downfield and made sure that if the return man ran within their five-yard lane, they tackled him.

But as football strategy has progressed, kickoff coverage has become significantly more complex than simply telling the 10 men on the coverage team (excluding the kicker, whose job is to pray that he doesn't have to make a tackle), to stay in their lanes. If each of the 10 men care only about an area of real estate just over five yards wide, the kickoff return team's wedge would overpower the players in the center lanes and lead a long return up the middle every time.

In this edition of our off-season strategy minicamp, we'll look at the responsibilities of the 10 players on the kickoff coverage team. Although it might seem like each player's job is as simple as “stay in your lane,� or, alternatively, “just run downfield and tackle the guy with the ball,� kickoff coverage teams have specific roles, which we'll address here.

Unlike on offense or defense, where everyone can agree what a quarterback is or what a linebacker is, on kickoff coverage, different teams use different terms to describe the players on the field. Special teams coaches like their coverage players to have somewhat reckless attitudes, which is why kickoff coverage players often have positions with names like “wedge buster,� “spear,� “bomber,� and “gunner.� For the purposes of this article we'll mostly identify coverage players using the simple system of R1 through R5 and L1 through L5, with the player closest to the kicker on the kicker's right identified as R1 and the player closest to the sideline on the kicker's left as L5.

Kickoff coverage players have four basic responsibilities:

1. Line up at the 20-yard line and time their run perfectly with the kicker's approach so that they are running at full speed and close to the 30-yard line as possible (without crossing it) just as the kicker's foot touches the ball.

2. Evade the front line. As we wrote about in our previous installment, kickoff return teams have two groups of blockers, the front line and the wedge. Getting past the front line blocks requires some of the same speed rush moves that defensive ends use on offensive tackles. An arm rip or a swim technique can help a coverage player get past the front line blockers without having to slow down.

3. Attack the wedge. Think of all the defensive tackles who have long and productive NFL careers not because they tackle the ball carrier themselves very often but because they can take on blockers to give the linebackers behind them space to make the tackle. Wedge busters are smaller and faster than defensive tackles but have similar roles on the team. They need to make sure the return unit doesn't have a perfectly intact wedge that can escort the return man to the end zone.

4. Make the tackle. No matter how quickly a coverage player can get downfield, if he allows the return man to run past him, he isn't of much use to his team.

Linebackers, defensive backs and wide receivers make up the bulk of the kickoff coverage teams because they have the right combination of speed to get downfield, elusiveness to avoid the blocks, and tackling ability. Among the league's best kickoff coverage players are Atlanta Falcons linebacker Ike Reese, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Sean Morey, and New York Giants receiver David Tyree.

On a typical coverage unit, R5 and L5 are the gunners – their job is to run straight to the ball. Because they're coming from the sidelines and the wedge usually assembles in the middle of the field, they usually don't have to worry about No. 3 of the above responsibilities. When the gunners do their jobs perfectly, they fly past the opposing front line and around the wedge, and then tackle the return man before he can reach the 20-yard line. Gunners line up at one 20-yard line and sprint to the other, a 60-yard run that is about the farthest a football player ever runs in a straight line.

Because R5 and L5, the players closest to the sideline, are running straight to the ball, there's a risk that the returner can run past them and simply turn up the sideline and take it to the house. That's why most teams give R4 and L4 the job of containment along the sidelines. R4 and L4 cross paths with L5 and R5 and make sure that if the return man tries to run up the sideline, they either tackle him or force him to turn back inside, where one of their teammates can make the tackle.

Responsibility No. 3, commonly known as the wedge buster, generally goes to L1 and R1. They're the players closest to the middle of the field, so they've got a straight shot at the opposing wedge. This is the perfect job for a rookie linebacker who has good speed and aggressiveness but hasn't learned the nuances of reading an opposing offense yet, or to a rookie fullback who loves running head first into someone in the opposite color jersey but doesn't fully understand how to identify a blitz. The coaches simply tell L1 and R1 to run full speed into the crowd of opposing blockers to foul up the return game. The wedge busters don't need to make the tackle themselves, but they need to make sure the opposing blockers are otherwise occupied. Many of the best wedge busters take out two blockers at once by throwing themselves at the wedge using a sideways leap, taking out one member of the wedge with the shoulders and another one with the hips.

That leaves L2, L3, R2 and R3 as the players who usually make the tackle. Those four players still have the role of staying in their lanes, but as they're running down the field in their lanes, they need to keep an eye on the ball, to see where the kick has gone and which direction the returner is going. One problem that often comes up, especially for players who try to break into the NFL on kickoff coverage units but didn't play special teams in college, is that they tend to keep their heads down when running. The players on the kickoff coverage unit need to have their heads up and be on the lookout both for the players trying to block them and for where the return man is running.

Although all the players on the kickoff coverage unit have specific assignments, there is one exception: As soon as a kickoff has traveled at least 10 yards, it's a live ball. Every now and then a ball will land where the return team isn't expecting it. If a live ball is on the ground, every player on the coverage unit should try to recover it. That's the only time it's OK for a member of the coverage team to forget his assignment.

Television camera angles make the kickoff coverage unit look like vaguely organized chaos. That's not an entirely inaccurate description of what's happening on the field. But players on the kickoff coverage units spend hours watching film and studying the Xs and Os on the blackboard for a reason. Within that seeming chaos, each of the 10 men on the kickoff coverage unit has a specific job that he needs to execute with every bit the precision of a quarterback's seven-step drop or a safety's blitz. Covering a kickoff doesn't get a player's face on television, but it does help his team win.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 05 Jul 2006

29 comments, Last at 27 Jul 2006, 7:49pm by slimsanghvi

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